At AAHOA convention, focus is on members, money and protecting investments

PHILADELPHIA—The Asian American Hotel Owners Association Convention here is a family affair, indeed. It's everywhere and everyone talks about how important family business is. Many of AAHOA's members are second- or third-generation hoteliers, and the pride they take in ownership of their hotels in evident. Said Mitch Patel, president and CEO of Vision Hospitality, "If not for the success of the first generation, would we still be doing this?"

They still are. This is the 25th anniversary of AAHOA, an organization that began in 1989 to protect the interests of Asian American hotel owners, and be a mouthpiece for their concerns. Today, the organization has more than 12,500 members; changed its logo in January and opened a new office in Washington, D.C., last June.

AAHOA's goals are very clear, as Mehul Patel, AAHOA chairman, said. "Our focus is you and how we can make you money, save you money and protect your investment." Patel added that in doing so, the organization must understand that guests are changing and that "we must develop new ways to deliver value."

AAHOA President Fred Schwartz followed up on what Patel outlined. "The marketplace is more complicated as is the job of owner," he said. His biggest concern: government interference, which Shwartz called the new battlefield for AAHOA. "Can we make an impact on the political process?" he asked the crowd. "Advocacy is the torch we’ll carry."

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The AAHOA PAC reportedly raised $200,000 in 2013, according to Pratik Patel, AAHOA's vice chairman.

The industry leader panel during the Convention's general session enlisted five top names: Al Patel, president of Baywood Hotels; Mitch Patel, president and CEO of Vision Hospitality; D.J. Rama, pesident of JHM Hotels; Jay Shah, CEO of Hersha Hospitality Trust; and Mit Shah, CEO of Noble Investment Group.

One of the topics discussed was tolerance for risk, a notion which changed after the financial crisis for Baywood's Patel. "Our hotel values went down. Lenders called us out. Now we think 10 times before we do a deal," he said. "Stress tests are more stringent. More due diligence. We shouldn’t forget those days."

For Hersha's Shah, it's no risk, no reward. "You have to take them," he said. "It keeps us disciplined."

Of course, risk is a relative term. You can never foretell a black swan event, which is why, as Noble's Shah said, "you need to focus on things you can be great at. If you can't be great at it, don’t do it. When something happens, those who were mediocre doing something will struggle."

So, what does the future hold? Mitch Patel said to be mindful of millennials. "Look out how they book rooms...the way they use TripAdvisor, Yelp. It's the power of social media."

Jay Shah pointed to the amount of devices (3.2) guests now travel with. "This isn't a trend," he said. As for social media, "It means you can't hide," he warned.


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